Furi was an extremely overlooked game that released in mid 2016. Being an indie title in an extremely niche market didn’t help in driving sales resulting in less word of mouth as well. On the other hand, among the convoluted meaning of what is Indie and what is not (Considering Microsoft did the marketing), Cuphead was released to both critical acclaim and overwhelming sales for such a niche title in modern gaming. As the title has already suggested, these games are being talked about because they lie in a similar niche genre called- boss rushers while also being different to an extent, making them good contrasting examples.
Boss rusher as a genre has extremely few games and actually originated from the mini games based on the concept of defeating one boss after the other in succession. Many retro gamers will be familiar with the idea since the said mini-games existed in titles like Mega Man, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance etc.
This kind of design is interesting because it is pretty much paradoxical. In most games, bosses are generally an endurance test, a bigger meaner threat than the usual enemies, having special abilities and are much more beefed up than the rest of the enemies in terms of health. So if all the enemies in the game already fit that checklist, can they really be classified as bosses or boss classed enemies?
The games cut out all the extra fat– no grunts, no mini bosses, no puzzles etc in favor of a more focused mano-a-mano confrontations with the bosses. They are structured in the conventional way of having different phases as the fight goes on and health bars are chipped away. These games are ideal for aficionados of hard games and speedrunners, being a good test of endurance, reflexes as well as optimizing each and every move to take as little time as possible for defeating the boss. Completing such games requires a mixture of pattern memorization, accuracy and good ol’ school reflexes.
Such games are generally short resulting in each boss becoming a considerable part of the whole game. Taking Furi as an example, it is just 5-6 hours long if completed without failing too many times, but with 11 bosses in total (Some of them being optional), each boss will roughly take around 30 minutes to complete. The situation is similar with Cuphead having about 20 bosses (Again, some optional) while each boss battle lasting around 3 minutes and the game totalling around 7-10 hours of playtime on average. Limiting the amount of enemies works in favor of such a design from a developer’s perspective because then the designers can focus on a small pool of enemies, while also being able extend their focus to other aspects of the game like graphics, art style, music etc
What makes for a good boss rush game?
The quality of a boss rush game is directly proportional to the quality of it’s boss design and how it ramps up the difficulty while being able to teach the player all of it’s core mechanics and their application. Taking a look at Hollow Knight (Not a boss rusher, just for clarity), a more conventional game with good level and boss design, it is apparent that the smaller enemies are designed in a way that prepares you for the boss battles. The fight with False Knight is preceded by a Husk Guard, the fight with Soul Master is preceded by Soul Twister and so on, you get the point.
This does not necessarily mean that the boss is always going to be designed in the same veins as the enemies that preceded it because an element of surprise and toughness is what gets the player pumping to defeat the boss and push through. Hence, each boss in a boss rusher game should be a kind of examination/preparation for the next boss to come OR should teach the mechanics of the game very well. If the game is able to make you feel that every fight is tough but fair, the boss rusher has done it’s job well.
Furi vs Cuphead? The inevitable comparison.
No this is not a section where a winner is selected between the two, rather it is the section that depicts the differences that both masterpieces have.
In terms of design, Furi and Cuphead are quite a bit different when it comes to- moment to moment gameplay, progression systems and structure. Furi is an indecisive combination of hack & slash and bullet hell shooters whereas Cuphead is more in the veins of a 2D platformer. Cuphead slightly follows in the footsteps of conventional games by having levels and an extremely rudementary progression system while allowing players more flexibility before each boss encounter.
Throughout the game, the player can acquire a number of items ranging from- increased health, more weapon, various supers etc to ease his or her journey. These are of course obtained by doing side-levels (For the lack of a better term) and are not necessary for completing the game (Cuphead can be completed just by parrying all the bosses if the player is skilled enough). Furi on the other hand doesn’t have any such system. Basically, what you start with is what you end with and if you are not able to complete a certain boss, GITTING GUD is the only way out.
Overall, I had more fun with Furi due to a few of it’s design choices- gaining health for perfect parry, a good amount of health, New Game+ mode which changes the game quite a bit etc. It’s easier to miss out on the smaller details in Furi, both mechanically and narrative wise as a result of being more cryptic.
What similar games are coming in the future?
Well, if you are enthusiastic about such games, then there is only one game that comes mind which is releasing in April, called Sinner: Sacrifice For Redemption. You can view the game’s steam page HERE and the developer’s homepage HERE.